Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab):
At the beginning of the right hon. Gentlemans contribution, he rightly reminded the House of the history of this country, and the right hon. Member for Witney
(Mr. Cameron) mentioned during Prime Ministers questions the untimely death of Airey Neave. I gently remind the shadow Home Secretary, however, that his Government were responsible for internment without charge and without limit of hundreds, if not thousands, of Irish people. Would he therefore inform the House when and how he changed his principles on civil liberties?
David Davis: I regret to tell the hon. Gentleman that I was not a Member of the 1972 Government. I never believed in internment; it was a dreadful mistake, and the hon. Gentleman is exactly right about that. One of the problems that we have to address today is whether we learn from that mistake or not. That is what we are trying to do in this exercise.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I want to take the right hon. Gentleman back to the important point that he was making, and one of its consequences. The definitions in the Bill are such that if, like the right hon. Gentleman and myself, one has occasion to read the documents on such matters, one has to conclude that such threats exist now. It follows, therefore, that one trigger is already present, and if the Government seek to activate the procedure, the only thing that the House of Commons can profitably discuss is whether the police have in detention persons whom it is necessary to hold for a period longer than 28 days. In other words, we will be left with the absurdity of the House of Commons behaving like a court.
David Davis: The right hon. Gentleman is exactly right. He is very experienced in this area and he knows the subject backwards. He has, in fact, been used by the Government on the matter. He points out what is fundamentally flawed in the Bill. This House is not a court. It cannot be and it should not be.
Mr. Baron: Having served in Northern Ireland, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that internment was not just a mistake, but counter-productive. It went directly against the armed forces because terrorists were able to go into communities and recruit actively, on the basis of internment, much better than they could otherwise. We do not want to make that mistake in this country with communities from whom we seek co-operation.
The other problem is that there are no additional judicial safeguards over and above what we have now for the individual. The House need not take my word for that; indeed, David Pannick QC, a leading practitioner in the field, the Governments counsel of choice and the man who literally wrote the textbook, provided a formal legal opinion on the Bill:
Not only do the Amendments fail to replicate the safeguards in the 2004 Act but they fail, significantly or meaningfully, to provide similar or analogous safeguards.
The truth is that the Governments so-called concessions are not a serious attempt to sustain consensus by providing proper checks and balances of the Home Secretarys now draconian powers. They are a vain attempt to save face. The Government have salami-sliced the safeguards, watered down the checks and buried an issue of high principle in a blizzard of fine print.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Why are those Members who are opposed to the principle of 42 days detention without charge prepared to accept the Civil Contingencies Act or the existing legal possibility of derogating to the European convention on human rights? It is because both the CCA and the power of derogation could be used only in exceptional circumstances. The fear in the Muslim community in my constituency, and in Muslim communities up and down the country, is that if the 42-day period goes on the statute book in the terms proposed, it would become routine, with all the negative consequences for our security and for community cohesion that we have heard about.
There is nobody in the Housenot one personwho does not feel horror at the loss of life or the pain and mutilation suffered by the victims of terrorism. But two wrongs do not make a right, least of all if what we do is ineffective, unnecessary or even counter-productive, as the hon. Lady has just pointed out.
I have no sympathy whatever for terrorists. However, to put the issue in real terms, not on paper, I want hon. Members to imagine what it feels like for someone who is innocent under the proposed regime. They are taken from their bed in the early hours of the morning, which is what normally happens. They are locked in a cell for six weeks1,000 hoursand they do not know why: not what they are accused of, not what the suspicions are, not what the evidence is. They do not know what is happening to their job. They do not know what is happening to their reputation. They do not know what is happening to their wife or their neighbours. They do not know what is happening to their children, who sometimes face the harsh cruelty of other children. They do not know that for six weeks1,000 hours. No money on this earth will compensate for that.
What we have is the worst of all worlds: a symbolic assault on liberty that is unnecessary, a change in the law that is counter-productive and a procedure that is unworkable. We do not defend our liberties by sacrificing our liberties. We must reject the Governments proposals.
I begin by thanking the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) not just for giving formal evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs when we considered the Governments counter-terrorism proposals, but for the private notes
that he sent me and other members of the Committee, which were extremely helpful in allowing us to make our final determination.
The right hon. Gentleman and others are quite right: this is an occasion of high politics, because this is Parliament, and of high drama, because of the outcome of the vote. More importantly, however, this is an occasion of high stakes, because we are dealing with the protection not just of our people, but of the liberties of individuals. Everyone, in all parts of the House, will take the issue and this debate very seriously indeed.
Last year, the Committee held an inquiry into the Governments counter-terrorism proposals. It began as a short inquiry, looking into the way in which those proposals had developed and at the 28-day period. Shortly afterwards, however, following the Prime Ministers statement to the House, we extended the inquiry to cover a number of other aspects. We took evidence from Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the deputy assistant commissioner, Peter Clarke, the director of human rights for the police, the director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, and the Prison Service.
We sought the opinion of the members of what was called the Forest Gate two Mr. Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Mr. Abul Koyair, who had been detained by the police and then released. We also took evidence from Rachel North, a writer and one of the survivors of 7/7, as well as from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, speaking for the Opposition, and the then Liberal spokesperson, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). [ Interruption. ] We did indeed take evidence from the Home SecretaryI am coming to her, but she has to wait her turn.
Those evidence sessions and the fact that we took evidence from a wide variety of individuals and organisations were important, because we wanted to produce a thorough report and to ensure that we covered all the points that were made to us. We also took evidence from the Home Secretary, who answered 149 questions and appeared before us twice, on one occasion at very short notice, leaving Cabinet before time to get to us. The co-operation that we received from the Government and others was extremely helpful.
We came to the conclusion that there was absolutely no evidence to support a permanent extension of the 28-day period to 42 days. We felt that the nature of permanence was such that no information placed before us could justify such an extension.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Did the right hon. Gentleman take evidence from Mr. Khurshid Ahmed, the chairman of the British Muslim Forum? I ask because Mr. Ahmed was reported yesterday as having views that justified the headline UKs top Muslim backs 42 days, but he is quoted this morning as saying:
In some cases 28 days have been needed but there has not been a case demonstrated to go beyond.
Keith Vaz: Anyone could have given evidence to our Committee. We did not take evidence from that particular gentleman, although he has said that he is in favour of the extension. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we could not take evidence from absolutely everyone involved. I have read a list of those involved, but anyone could have submitted evidence to us.
Despite saying that there was no case for an extension of the permanent limit of 28 days, we made it clear not just in the most recent report, but in a previous report, when the Committee was chaired by my right hon. Friend the now Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skillssome of the members who contributed to the 2006 report are still serving on the Committeethat the current limit of 28 days might prove inadequate in the future. Both the Home Secretary and, more particularly, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner told us that they foresaw circumstances in which an extension would be necessary. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden and the former spokesman and current leader of the Liberal Democrats both saw that as a possibility in certain circumstances. We noted that Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney-General, who was part of the Government when they put forward their proposal for 90 days, also envisaged the possibility of an extension in the future.
We considered at some length Libertys proposals that part 2 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 could be used in those exceptional circumstances where we both felt that it would be necessary to go beyond 28 days. We concluded, however, that the Act as drafted was not intended to deal with a situation of that kind. I pay tribute to Shami Chakrabarti and Liberty for the way in which they have engaged not just with the Select Committee, but with hon. Members and the Government. It is common knowledge that Liberty met the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and others to discuss the legislation. It is right to engage with organisations such as Liberty, which has a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be put to great use. We felt that the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 was not the right vehicle, however, because we did not believe that the best way to deal with a situation of this kind was to have a state of emergency. Indeed, as the House knows, if the 2004 Act is adopted, it will take the period well beyond what is envisaged in the Governments proposals.
We urged the Home Secretary to begin urgent discussions with other parties to try to build consensus. I know that she and others have been criticised for engaging with Members of Parliament. Some very cynical points have been madenot so far in todays debate, if I may say so, but outside the Houseabout why the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing should be discussing matters with Members of Parliament. Of course they should. That is the nature of government. How dreadful it would be if the Government decided on a particular course of action and then never consulted anybody else. I hope that Home Secretary will not mind my having a slight dig at herI am, after all, supporting her tonight: if only the Government had done the same thing over police pay, there would have been a different scenario. That aside, this engagement is extraordinarily important and has helped to bring a better proposal before the House; it has certainly moved a long way since the original proposals were made in July last year.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con):
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, my neighbour in Leicestershire, for giving way. I am listening to what he says, I understand that he is supporting the Bill and I think that engagement can, indeed, lead people to change their minds. However, I also understand that he and his Committee were originally against any extension to 42 days, so will he
take the opportunity to crush the churlish and ridiculous rumour that at some stage in his discussions with the Home Secretary and the Government, the issue of knighthoods or anything like that was mentioned?
Keith Vaz: If a knighthood were on offer, it would sit better on the shoulders of the hon. Gentleman, representing as he does a county seat in Leicestershire. [Interruption.] No, it was certainly not offeredbut I do not know; there is still time.
To be serious again, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman was seeking to be in making that ridiculous comment, our conclusion was endorsed by 11 votes to one in a cross-party inquiry that included four Conservative Membersthe hon. Members for Newark (Patrick Mercer), for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter)and a Liberal Democrat, the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne). Our conclusion was that there may be in future the possibility of an extension, and we set out very clearly the grave and exceptional circumstances that might exist.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman does an excellent job of chairing the Committee and of encouraging consensus there, which is very important for Select Committees. Does he agree, however, that great concern was expressed by some members of the Committee about 42 days and that, in the end, the report was almost unanimously signed off because we wanted to make it clear that if there were to be an extension beyond 42 days, safeguards had to be in place. That did not necessarily imply full support for an extension beyond that period.
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; of course there was controversy about this issue in the Committee, as there is in the House more widely. The fact remains that by 11 votes to one, the Committee decided that there was a possibility of exceptional circumstances arising in the future and we set out carefully the wording, referring to grave and exceptional circumstances in which an extension might be sought. The only member of the Committee to vote against was my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), for whom I have the highest regard. He has been absolutely consistent on this matter from the time that he put forward the 28-day rule. I have huge respect for him and I recall his saying to the Committee that he felt that this was opening a window that we would, in his words, regret. He feared that the Government would use the provision in future to claim that exceptional circumstances demanded a further extension.
Keith Vaz: I shall give way in a moment. The fact is that the Committee decided in a near unanimous report that, in future, such circumstances might arise, just as the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 accepts that an emergency situation could arise in future.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was absolutely right to express his concerns about this matter? It has come to pass in a very few
weeks that the Government want 42 days, and I suspect that in a couple of years time, another Home Secretary will want even more. That is the nature of proposals that endlessly give politicians more powers over the process of detention.
Keith Vaz: I have known my hon. Friend for many years. He was the first Member to support me when I was selected to stand in Leicester, East, so I have a high regard for him and for the way in which he defends the civil liberties of his constituents, but he is wrong. That is not what is being proposed today, and I am glad to be able to clarify that for him. We have made it very clear that this is not a permanent extension and I would not vote for a permanent extension beyond 28 days [Interruption.] No, I would not. This is a specific extension on an emergency basis. The Select Committee said in 2006, before I was even a member of it, that there would be circumstances in the future in which the period should be extended. In December, the Committee, which I now chair, decided by 11 votes to one that there would be grave and exceptional circumstances, and the Government have merely adopted our language.
Mr. Grieve: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He has looked carefully at the Governments proposals and I agree with him that the phrase grave exceptional terrorist threat might, given its ordinary English meaning, be taken to connote the sort of emergency that is akin to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. However, does he agree that if we look at new clause 20, we find that the definition of a grave exceptional terrorist threat is extremely widemuch wider than that of a state of emergency? Does he also agree that the bizarre aspect of the Governments proposals is that the basis will not be a grave exceptional terrorist threat, which Parliament will be asked to decide on in any case, as we will be asked to vote on an order that is simply a report on an operational need for a further extension of the maximum period of detention? Will the right hon. Gentleman please explain what the Home Secretary seems to have been incapable of explaininghow the House will be able to carry out its scrutiny processes in practice and how the Civil Contingencies Act in any way approximates to what the Government are actually doing?
Keith Vaz: I am satisfied that the safeguards that the Government have put in place will deal with all the issues that the hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned. I am satisfied that the proposed parliamentary scrutiny is sufficient. I am pleased that the Home Secretary has lowered the period from 30 days to seven. Of course, if we could all have our lives again, it would have been much better if the Civil Contingencies Act had been amended so that these proposals were not brought forward, but we are not there at the moment, and I am satisfied that Governments changes will deal with that situation [Interruption.]
Keith Vaz: I am satisfied about that, and I am quite clear that the parliamentary, judicial and administrative scrutiny that the Home Secretary and the Government propose to give to Parliament and the judges is sufficient to deal with this issue.